4 CEA ADVISOR MAY - JUNE 2018 UNITING WESTPORT EDUCATORS SCORE VICTORY Teachers call for restoration of jobs, fair process in healthcare discussions “Solving a budget crisis at the expense of children is not OK.” Bridgeport teacher Mary Krotki At a town budget meeting in Stratford, hundreds of teachers, students, and community members made their views known by carrying signs and wearing stickers with messages such as “Cuts Hurt Kids,” “Fund Public Schools,” and “Every Student Matters. Every Teacher Matters.” At issue were $700,000 in education cuts and a proposal by the superintendent to lay off 43 teachers, including half of the district’s reading specialists, in the middle of the current school year. “Stratford officials are once again trying to solve the town’s budget problems on the backs of teachers,” said Stratford Education Association (SEA) President Michael Fiorello, calling the proposed layoffs deeply troubling. “Teachers should not be the ones continually asked to put out fires when budgetary problems ignite. We continue to do all we can for our students, we make sacrifices, we do more with less, but we can’t continue to jeopardize our education system.” “Stratford students, parents, and teachers deserve a long-term vision to ensure high-quality public education,” said SEA Vice President Kristen Record. On May 15, the district pulled back on all teacher layoffs, leaving classrooms intact. While not every organizing effort ends in a victory, efforts such as these generate media attention, public support, and eventually the momentum necessary to effect positive change for teachers, students, and public education. Your local Association and your CEA are with you every day, every step of the way. Wearing red for ed, like their colleagues standing up for fair wages and education funding across the nation, 200 Westport teachers came together in a show of strength and solidarity before their town’s board of education. And their organizing efforts paid off: After threats to cut 160 teaching jobs and leave the remaining teachers with higher-than-average insurance premiums, administrators and the board walked back their heavy- handed proposals—rescinding most of the layoff notices and reducing teachers’ out-of-pocket insurance costs. “This would not have happened if teachers hadn’t stood together,” said Westport Education Association (WEA) Co-President and NEA Director John Horrigan. All give, no get When the Westport Board of Education asked teachers to join the state health insurance plan as a way of saving the town as much as $2 million to $3 million over the next year, WEA agreed and requested a modest reduction in the percentage teachers paid for health insurance. In response, the administration delivered an ultimatum and 160 nontenured teacher layoff notices—at a time when the town was poised to save millions and add a new position—that of an assistant superintendent—with a six-figure salary. Horrigan underscored the fact that WEA and its members have been extremely cooperative and willing to switch to the state insurance plan to save the town money—just as they had switched in 2010 and 2013 to plans that caused “enormous disruption to our members’ lives” but that saved the district “huge amounts of money.” Horrigan said, “You can imagine our shock when all nontenured teachers were told by their administrators that they would be laid off. All of these 160 best and brightest had to put on a happy face all day Friday, despite this devastating news.” WEA members did not take the threat lying down. Enough Hundreds turned out for a board of education meeting to show their disappointment with the administration’s response and to demonstrate support for one another, their students, and their schools. Scenes like this have played out in Bridgeport, Stratford, and other cities and towns where teachers are continually asked to do more with less. (See stories below.) At an April board of education meeting, Bedford Middle School teacher April Harvey, who is WEA’s secretary, explained it this way. “We’ve made concessions year after year. And now we want to know when we will see some relief. Westport teachers are simply looking for a fair premium share for our insurance. And the percent we’d be paying is still higher than that of almost all the towns participating in the State Partnership Plan. However, the response from the Board was coercive, with the intent of dividing us by threatening the jobs of all 160 of this district’s newest teachers.” High school social studies teacher John Bengston is one of the educators whose job was on the line. Though he worried about his future and his students, he was heartened by his local Association’s swift and strong response to the situation. “WEA was out there speaking on our behalf, working for a better school climate, representing teachers and students so that all sides are winners.” Not too late to make things right Despite a generally positive, longstanding relationship with the Board, Horrigan said, WEA was being subject to “heavy-handed attempts to bully us into an agreement.” WEA Co-President Karen DeFelice agreed. “We want to be partners,” she said, “but the tactics of ‘last best offers,’ ultimatums, and surprise layoff notices are just too much. Westport Education Association members hold steadfast against any unfair practices that affect the classroom and jeopardize students’ futures and teachers’ livelihoods.” The teachers’ decision to organize and stand together paid off. Later that week, most layoff notices were canceled, and healthcare premiums were decreased by 1.5 percent. Westport teachers wore red in a show of solidarity with colleagues in their district as well as in schools around the country. Hours before a drastic budget measure affecting the district’s public schools was set to take effect, Bridgeport teachers held a news conference drawing attention to school officials’ refusal to hire substitute teachers—a decision that threatened to disrupt learning and jeopardize student safety. Bridgeport Education Association President and NEA Director Gary Peluchette (at podium) joined fellow BEA members in calling on administrators to reverse their decision and keep student safety and learning top priorities. WEA Secretary April Harvey explains a series of personal and financial sacrifices teachers have made. STRATFORD TEACHERS FIGHT TO AVERT LAYOFFS—AND WIN CEA Board members show their support for teachers striking in Arizona, Oklahoma, and across the U.S.